July 5, 1999 - Day 30 - Wray, Colorado to Trenton, Nebraska
74 stinkin' miles, 11.8 measly average mph, 1720 total miles, 25.3 mph maximum speed
The day started crummy and got worse. Breakfast at the Big Red Cafe in Wray was easily the worst breakfast of the trip. I ordered the scrambled egg and cheese thing with a side of bacon. What got put in front of me was a rectangle of hardened "scrambled" egg with Velveeta topping and freshly-microwaved bacon, done to the point of total dehydration. I actually couldn't finish it. This was bad because I had gotten in too late the night before to get dinner in Wray, and so I think the die for the day was cast.
WeatherChannel the night before said that this neck of the woods would have SW winds in the morning, changing over to NE winds. Knowing that Rte. 34 headed northeast, I wanted to get an early start. I was on the road by 9:00 (Hey, that's early for me!).
Well, "the morning" must have meant 3:00 a.m. because those winds had already changed. And it was brutal. All day. For much of the time I was pedaling hard on flat surface and making between 9 and 11 mph. It got old really fast.
When you hear all the locals talking about how bad the wind is today, you know it's bad. And this area is known for being windy. (Is it 'Giants in the Earth' that describes the Scandinavian immigrant pioneers who go crazy because of the incessant wind on the prairie?)
And... HUMIDITY!!!! This far west??? What's going ON????
There's no way I can take a picture of the wind or the humidity, so you just have to understand that this was the low day of the trip so far; the first day I've been defeated mentally.
But... I bounced back. How? As usual... people. Here we go:
Welcome to Nebraska
I thought the railroad entry was a more appropriate picture than the highway entry. The Union Pacific part of the transcontinental railroad line (see Trails page) began in Omaha, Nebraska and worked its way west across the Platte River valley and northwest across South Pass in Wyoming. Which means this isn't it. This is the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy line.
Horace Greeley described this southwest nook of Nebraska as follows while visiting one of the outposts of the Leavenworth-Pike's Peak Express Stage Line: "I would match this station and its surroundings against any other scene on our continent for desolation." That was in the 1870's before the homesteaders moved in, before the Ogalalla Aquifer was discovered, before they dammed the Republican River, before it got greened up.
Up until about 5:00 I would have agreed with Greeley about the desolation, but mostly the human kind. I wasn't running into the greatest people in the world here. For one thing, I was 40 miles into the state before I could even get a map of it. Hello!! At one gas station, I asked the attendant what the next town east was and she couldn't tell me - had to get help with that one. I had one old, wizened woman just look at me and cackle, "The heat's gonna getcha." Super!
There's an interesting book that Sujata Bharani, former DGN student and present environmental ecologist, recommended to me. I read it prior to leaving and wanted to review it on our site, but couldn't get around to it. Now, of course, I can't remember its name OR author. It was an environmental historical study of the area between the Republican and Platte Rivers, examining the interaction of human, animal and plant life through history. Among other interesting things, the author noted that virtually all immingrant journals note massive herds of buffalo in eastern Nebraska and almost none in western Nebraska during the 1850's and 60's. This goes against the common assumption that the buffalo (like the Indian) were herded and "penned into" the west on a gradual basis when the white man moved out here.
He theorizes that since the uplands of western Neb. were at that time in serious drought, all life during those two decades was trying to crowd into the two river basins, and as close to the rivers as possible. The basins just could not handle all the Indians and all the buffalo. And so it may have been the Indians who themselves "overkilled" the buffalo since it was competing for precious resource. The whites, who came shortly after, caught the blame.
This picture will be appreciated by those of us of the first television age
This old one is on Rte. 34 east of Benkelman.
Can you see what kind of station it was?
The Group at Max
From left to right: JoAnn Walter, Mary Richards*, Tim Richards, TJ Richards and Lori Strumitis. It's Tim's gas station, Richard's Service, located on Rte. 34 in Max, Nebraska.
I had just traveled 8 grueling miles from Benkelman and I was at the low point. I stopped in to get a map and ended up with an hour and a half visit, plus an excellent map (thank you JoAnn). We talked about all kinds of stuff: Columbine shootings, parental discipline, teaching, getting truck tires off rims, cameras, Nebraska...
And humidity. Why this far west? The locals here speculate that the climate began to get more humid starting about 20 years when they dammed the Republican River to make the lake, and when they began using, yes, center pivot irrigation, which puts a ton of moisture into the air.
When I came in, I was just about done with Nebraska and everybody in it. Thanks to these folks, I left with a new attitude. Mary offered me her place to stay 10 miles up the road in Stratton, but I had so much energy now that I went 12 miles farther than that!
Look out sun!!! I'm catchin' you.
Hey, I'm now in my home time zone!!! Yes!! This is Aileen Abraham's county, and she did a pretty good job with it.
What time is it right AT the sign? (Answer below)
What goes around...
So the old Leavenworth-Pike's Peak Express got overridden by another stage line that followed the more-travelled Platte River valley.
Just like old Rte. 34 (which follows the Leavenworth-Pike's Peak route) has been overridden by Interstate 80 (which follows the Platte River valley)
(Begin singing please, 'Oh Give Me Land, Lots of Land...)
Isn't this touching? The historical association erects a lovely granite monument commemorating the great south to north cattle trail ("Lonesome Dove").
But wait. What's that I spy right behind the monument? No!!! It CAN'T be!!!!! It's......
(Finish singing please, '...Don't...Fence... Me... Innnnn')
I met Gary and Judy at the burger place across from my motel. The M-Bar is their 3500 acre spread about 20 miles north of here. It's one of a dwindling species: the family-owned ranch.
Judy and Gary Malone of the M-Bar Ranch
We talked for more than an hour about ranching and farming in Nebraska, about the Aquifer, irrigation, water rights (Hey, Modern World students, listen to Judy: "The next war will be fought over water." Heard this before???), and teaching (they have both been teachers).
Lois, we and any part of our families are invited to spend any part of a summer working with them on their ranch/farm. They grow about six crops and raise about three kinds of cattle. Their offer is genuine, like them.
Their more immediate offer was for me to come up and visit their place tomorrow and see a working ranch. And have a REAL T-Bone steak. ("You haven't eaten steak until you taste fresh beef.")
And I said 'No'??
I did, because I just want to get home right now.
But I have made a valuable link to Nebraska ranching and via the internet linked to the M-Bar Ranch, my classes will now be able to learn so much more about ranching in the 1990's.
Example of the farmer's plight from Gary: In the 50's a Nebraska rancher sold a bunch of cattle at $300 a head and went and bought a new harvester for $10,000. In 1998 he priced a new harvester: $150,000. How much will he get for his cattle? $300 a head.
Question: How does the small ranch/farm survive?
Answer: It doesn't. But, boy, our steak is cheap. (And just like Big Macs and strawberries, the quality has been diluted so subtlely by the corporate executives over time that we don't even notice how much crappier they taste now than they used to)
Let's hope July 6 brings tailwinds. I'm resigned to the humidity.
*not THAT one
Answer: The present
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